The ugly face of Feminist Consumerism

Airtel, one of the leading telecom providers from India aired an advertisement that was supposed to break gender barriers at work, but the ad also reinstated another long standing gender stereotype in the Indian society.There were discussions on social media and it became a news hour debate on TV (probably sponsored by Airtel). I questioned but also defended the ad with few people.

Feminist ideas were used in advertising to make a false promise of empowerment and sell products based on that. Craven A was the first brand to use women’s empowerment message as a way to market their brand. Owing to these ads and the socio cultural norms it purported, women smokers in the US increased from 5 percent in 1923 to 18 percent in 1935 (Penny,2014). The most famous campaign was from Virginia Slims in the 1960s. The extremely disturbing aspect of these advertisements was the fact that they were selling a product that will potentially kill women in the name of women empowerment.

In the recent years, we especially see a surge in the ads targeting women in developing countries that show faux feministic ideologies to sell products that indeed reinstate the same stereotypes. A case in point is the Dove’s real beauty ads that camouflage women’s empowerment message to sell their skin care products.

Recently, FCKH8, an online retailer of clothes, made children from 6–13 speak out supporting gender, race and feminism. But, there were two major issues, one they were eschewing many F-words and the brand was trying to sell anti-sexism t-shirts. This was the same company that tried to sell Ferguson t-shirts when the case was widely publicised in the US.

Johnston and Taylor (2008) call this as ‘feminist consumerism’. The problem with campaigns like Dove’s “Real beauty” or Pantene’s “Sorry, but not sorry” or FCKH8’s campaign is that they expect women to buy a product to feel empowered. These products reestablish the same societal constructs that feminism is against. Grassroots feminist activists make more impact in bringing in change to the society, but the problem is they don’t have the same budgets as these multi-billion dollar companies.

When we voice against objectification of women in advertising, don’t you think even faux idealisms that promote consumerism are also equally dangerous?

List of references:

  1. Airtel India, (2014). Boss Film — The Smartphone Network. [image] Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct. 2014].
  2. Bhatt, S. (2014). Journey of fairness creams’ advertising in India. [online] The Economic Times. Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2014].
  3. Dove United States, (2014). Dove Real Beauty Sketches. [video] Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct. 2014].
  4., (2014). Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism. [video] Available at: [Accessed 25 Oct. 2014].
  5. Johnston, J. and Taylor, J. (2008). Feminist consumerism and fat activists: A comparative study of grassroots activism and the Dove real beauty campaign. Signs, 33(4), pp.941–966.
  6. Pantene, (2014). Not Sorry. ShineStrong Pantene. [video] Available at: [Accessed 24 Oct. 2014].
  7. Penny, L. (2014). Laurie Penny on advertising: First, the admen stole feminism — then they used it to flog cheap chocolate and perfume to us. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Oct. 2014].
  8. Virginia Slims super woman print advertisement. (2014). [image] Available at: [Accessed 26 Oct. 2014].